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How to Become an Accountant or Auditor

Trying to find the perfect career can be challenging, but a great place to start is by looking at your strengths and weaknesses. If you have excellent communication skills, a career in PR or sales could be the right fit. For those with a love of math and a strong interest in finance, working as either an accountant or an auditor might be a suitable career choice.

However, it takes more than a casual knowledge of accounting in order to secure one of these in-demand employment positions. Use this guide to learn the most important steps toward becoming an accountant or auditor.

Quick Facts: Accounting Industry
Median Pay:   $70,166 per year | $34 per hour
Entry-Level Education:   Bachelor's degree
Work Experience:   None
Number of Jobs, 2014:   2,941,000

Accounting Occupations:

  • Accountants and auditors$65,940
  • Financial analysts$78,620
  • Accountants and auditors$65,940

1. Understand the Job Requirements

Step one toward either of these two math and finance focused careers is understanding what, exactly, accountants and auditors do on a regular basis.

Accountants might work for individuals, accountancy firms or even small businesses, and their jobs might include tasks like creating a budget, balancing a checkbook, calculating and paying annual taxes and recommending financial action to increase profits.

Auditors have very similar jobs, but they may focus more on reconciling tax claims with actual expenditures. Auditors who work in-house with a company or business might spend a lot of their time ensuring that financial records are free from error, that the budget is balanced and that there are no major expenses or assets that can't be accounted for.

Accountants and auditors both spend a lot of time working on their own, but they also need to communicate regularly with their partners, their clients or others in the financial department when necessary.

2. Brush Up On Your Math and Computing Skills

Since the main tasks completed by both accountants and auditors are numbers-related, having a basic understanding of math and finance is a great place to start when getting your education.

Before you even enroll into an associate, bachelor's or master's degree program, familiarize yourself with the basics like statistics and cost reconciliation. This can help you feel more confident once classes start, and it can also help you decide whether this is the major for you before you have started earning the degree.

In addition, remember that much of an accountant's tasks are completed on the computer, so being able to navigate a PC with ease will go a long way in helping you succeed in this field.

3. Earn a Degree in the Accounting Field

If you have worked through the first two steps and you are serious about becoming either of these two professions, then earning an accounting degree is the best way to achieve your career goals.

The most useful degree for many individuals interested in this line of work will be a four-year bachelor's degree in accounting. This degree can be earned online or through a traditional college campus, and it is up to the student to determine which option is best considering their location, their schedule and their demands. While the exact courses you might take at this level can vary from school to school, expect to take classes such as business computer skills, economics, business statistics and finite mathematics.

If you want to secure one of the top jobs in this industry, pursuing an advanced degree like a master's may be a great option.

4. Sit For Licensing Examinations

Most employers choose to hire individuals with some kind of formal licensing. The best-known exam in the accounting field is the CPA exam, which gives you the right to call yourself a CPA, or Certified Public Accountant. Even if you don't sit for this exam, or if you are studying auditing instead, you will likely need to register with the Board of Accountancy in your state in order to find stable work. You might also wish to join groups for auditors or accountants in your region that add legitimacy and clout to your formal education.

5. Look For Available Accountancy Employment

A major concern for anyone planning to earn a new degree is whether they will be able to find work after graduation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the demand for accountants and auditors is forecast to grow by as much as 16 percent between now and 2020.

With an accounting degree, you might work in a large financial firm, with a small independent business, with a bank or even as a private tax consultant that deals with individual clients. As of May 2010, the BLS lists the median salary of full-time employees in this field as an impressive $61,690.

Both auditing professionals and accountants should expect busy seasons as well as calmer periods of work during the year.

Whether as a CPA or an auditor, many career opportunities are available for those with the right knowledge, training and dedication to succeed in the field of accounting.

Discover how you can earn an accounting degree online.